High Jinks and Fantastic Food at the Water Masterclass at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Water Masterclass? Am I losing it? No, dear friends, I spent a day at a Water Masterclass near Melbourne, Victoria last year, and it was one of the best days of last year. And I had a lot of very good travel days.

Every year at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival there is a masterclass based around the theme of the festival. The 2014 theme was water, ergo, water masterclass and 50 excited people gathered by the river at 8.30am, sparkling wine in hand, and boarded a bus to regional Victoria. We were to spend the day in the company of the UK’s Nathan Outlaw, Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney, and local chef Aaron Turner, now based in Nashville, who had returned home for the event. Expectations were high.

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The Story of the Real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Acetaia Pedroni, Emilia Romagna


Acetaia Pedroni, near Modena

In a small town outside Modena, there is an acetaia called Aceaia Pedroni. Here they make balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and the Pedroni family have been making it in this location since 1862. Now run by Italo, 80 and his wife Franca (who still cooks in the family taverna), they make balsamic vinegar and some wines, including lambrusco and pignoletto (local sparkling wines).


Italo, with his vinegars

We all know balsamic vinegar, but few of us know the real stuff. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (which it must be called by law) takes a minimum of 12 years to mature through a patient process of evaporation and careful management in a family of at least five barrels, called a battery. This process is protected and governed by law, and the vinegar and acetaia are checked by government representatives.


The barrel batteries

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar starts with grapes, Trebbiano (a white grape) in Acetaia Pedroni’s case. These are gently crushed, now by machine, but before by children primarily, as it needed to be gentle. The grapes are then cooked and reduced to create a grape must. This must is fermented in batteries of barrels, some of which are ancient, as a balsamic barrel is never thrown out, it is repaired, sometimes by putting a new barrel on the outside but always keeping the old barrel, as this is where flavour is. A battery must have a minimum of five barrels, from small to large, each one increasing in size.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families.

The acetaia, complete with confessional. The land used to be owned by the church but it is now owned by a collective of families and has been for hundreds of years.

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A Postcard from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

An Orang Utan in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

An Orang Utan at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

I have stacks of recipes to share with you all, and was in the midst of writing one up for you, when I thought: no, I really don’t want to do that right now. What I have to do is share some pictures from Sabah with you first. It is a wonderful place, and while I am here I am keen to share it with you.

Sabah is in Malaysian Borneo. A tropical part of the world, it has sea and rainforest, monkeys and bears, and lots of fantastic food, particularly seafood. I have been busy since my arrival, that won’t surprise you much, and have seen and eaten lots. The food has been wonderful, as good as I had been told, but I would be telling a lie if I didn’t tell you that it was the wildlife that stole my heart.

Oran utangs (translates as man of the jungle), proboscis monkeys (so called because of their massive nose, they are also called belanda, Malay for Dutchman, as it was thought that the Dutch colonisers had similar large bellies and noses) and cheeky little macaques (which were rifling through the rubbish and stealing eggs at breakfast this morning) featured but there was much more.


A proboscis monkey! Native to Borneo. Curious and divine. Bigger than you think too!

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Making Fresh Gozitan Cheese with Rikardu in Gozo, Malta

Scenes from Gozo.

Gozo is the second of the three Maltese islands. When you consider that the smallest has only three (elderly) inhabitants, and that Gozo itself is only 8.7 x 4.5 miles, you might be surprised to learn that Gozo has a food culture all of its own. Best among this is the Gozitan fresh cheese, Ġbejniet. I made it my mission to meet a cheesemaker while I was on the island and explore this. The world is a smaller tighter place when you can get close to the origins of your food, and the people who make it.

Ġbejniet is made daily by small farmers (one I met, Victor, from the charming Dreams of Horses farm has just a few sheep and makes it daily). I managed to track down Rikardu, who has a farm with 200 sheep and goats which he milks by hand daily, and then makes fresh cheese with the milk while it is still warm. He sells the cheese in his restaurant Ta’ Rikardu, where you can have the fresh cheese (Ġbejniet) on its own, or a platter for two of fresh cheese, wind dried cheese and peppered cheese (at just €8.95). .

Rikardu, making his cheese.

Rikardu starts by adding rennet to the milk. The rennet which he uses now is a commercial product, however, before the tradition was to kill a suckling sheep and use the stomach (from which rennet is obtained) to set the cheese by letting it sit in the whey for 3 days. This whey would then be used for up to a few months. The milk, with rennet added, is allowed to sit until it sets, which takes about 20 minutes. Rikardu then pours it into individual moulds (little plastic baskets, really), which are allowed to drain for about 10 minutes, before each cheese is turned within gently, all by hand. The cheese is good to eat a few hours later, and for up to a couple of days. Rikardu showed me an original wicker mould too, but these are expensive now and also less practical when it comes to cleaning them.

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What to Eat in Madrid & Where to Eat It

Madrid is a serious food city. It is also a city that parties hard and keeps extremely late hours. I went to bed early each night over the weekend that I was there, at 3am. Woah, Madrid! Madrileños eat as they drink, and that eating is a serious business. Their expectations are high, and so they should be, quality abounds, and once you steer clear of the tourist joints, you will eat well.

This list is based on my last trip there, a week ago. It is well researched and sampled, but not exhaustive. Madrid is brilliant and exciting in that it has an enviable list of great places to eat. Which is why I plan to go back there as soon as I can manage it. For this trip, I asked the locals, as only people who live there can have the full breadth of experience required to pick a sample for a weekend.

Conspicuously absent on this list until my return is Callos Madrileños (Madrid style tripe), Cocido Madrileño (a heavy chickpea based stew) and DiverXO (Madrid’s exciting 3* restaurant). The first two seemed more wintry, so I decided to save them for a trip in a colder time, and DiverX0 needs very early booking and a day dedicated to it.

Eat Cochinillo (Suckling Pig) at Los Galayos & Santceloni

I enquired of a local, where should I eat suckling pig in Madrid? He replied, well of course I don’t eat it in Madrid, I head to the small villages in the Sierras where it is the best. I despaired a little, I didn’t have time to go to the Sierras. But, where should I eat it in Madrid? OK: Los Galayos is best, and that is where the locals go, was what he disclosed. There is also Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records) and where Hemmingway is said to have eaten two suckling pigs with two bottles of rioja in one seating. It is supposed to be excellent, but it is firmly on the tourist map, so I chose the local alternative, which was just around the corner. The suckling pig (less than one month old) was tender and sublime, with a thin crisp crackling surfing a rich glorious fat. A large portion, it was very well priced at €21.75. At the other end of the scale, the suckling pig loin at two michelin starred Santceloni is steeper at €53, but it is excellently executed. It is served as racks of ribs and loin which are roasted to the point where the flesh is moist and luscious and there is a perfect crisp skin.

Eat Anything (Everything?) at StreetXo

StreetXo, the street food offering from DiverXO’s 3 star chef David Muñoz in El Corte Inglés, is one of the most exciting restaurants that I have eaten at this year. Creative and inspired, each dish was sharp, elegant and full of flavour. There is one u shaped counter around the open kitchen, with some stools. I chose to stand. I stood there for 3 hours, and ate as much as I could. No dish disappointed and there was lots of surprises.

David happened to be there on the night that I visited, and he said that the menu changes all the time, so while I can’t say for sure that these dishes will be on when you visit, try anything, and if the peking dumpling with pigs ear or the butter fish are on, dive in. I ate too much and had a few glasses of wine, and my bill was still less than €50. It opens at 8.30, and I arrived 5 minutes later. All the seats were gone, but I got a space at the counter. Anyone who arrived after had to wait, so do get there early. (Note: StreetXO relocates from El Corte Inglés to a bigger premises in Madrid in November).

Eat Churros & Porras with Coffee or Chocolate

I am sure you are all familiar with churros but when in Madrid you must also have the local version, porras. Porras translates as truncheon, and reflects the larger size, which is even better for absorbing what you dip it into. It is common in Spain to dip churros in hot thick chocolate, but in Madrid, locals prefer to dip it in coffee, which became my perfect regular breakfast while I was there. Seek out a Fabrica de Churros & Patatas Fritas, most neighbourhoods have them, and it is where locals go to buy fresh patatas fritas (crisps!), churros and porras. Chocolatería San Ginés, one of Madrid’s oldest cafés, is very popular with tourists but is still very good, and locals love it too. Go there to have them with chocolate.

Go to Madrid’s Markets

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A Day in Valletta, Malta: Breakfast, Lunch & Culture

I am reaching the end of a serious stint of work related travels, bouncing in and out of London and landing in Ireland, Malaysia, Portugal (travelling North to South), Madrid and now Malta. Malta is the perfect place to finish. Based on the sleepy island of Gozo (the locals pronounce it Goh-zoh, all slowly), the only thing that moves quickly here are the cats darting for your food, or me, darting for mine. Occasionally.

I have been really enjoying my gentle explorations. More on Gozo soon, for I am not finished here yet. Lets starts with Valletta. Yesterday, I headed for the Maltese metropolis, for a wander and bite to eat. Gozo locals think Malta quite intense and busy, and sure, by Gozo standards this is so. For me, it was dreamy and peaceful. Valletta is not an excessively large city, but there is much to see.

The entirety of Valletta, is protected by UNESCO, and it is so pretty. Lofty limestone houses with windows jutting out, just to see what you are doing below. Painted to match the limestone, occasionally green, pops of red and some blue. At times, these seem to reach to each other across narrow alleys that stretch to the sea, never reaching, always hoping, always calm. Lots of steps, some hills, gorgeous parks like the Lower Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the sea, complete with a folly of a neoclassical temple within. There are lots of churches, standing proud, and St John’s Cathedral, boasting the work of the Knights of St John, including some by one of their most famous members, Caravaggio (who was eventually defrocked). The water surrounding the walled city of Valletta, in the sun an electric blue, gives Malta a sometimes surreal feel as it slinks against the city walls.

I start with a wander, as I always do, and I have a list, but I only have a day here, so I have to choose. I start with breakfast at Prego, an old Maltese café, with some of the best pastizzi in town, crisp flaky pastry, almond shaped and filled with fluffy ricotta which peeps out to say hello. I also tried a qassat, taller and plump with split peas, made of a shorter thicker pastry with a lid on top (nice but more appropriate for a heavier day, I think).

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Greetings from Gozo, Malta

Greetings from Gozo! A small island, just under 9 x 4.5 miles,  and part of the Maltese archipelago, I am based here for 5 days exploring the island, and a little of Malta too. I have just arrived, the photos above are from my (25 minute) ferry journey from Malta. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Despite its size, Gozo is the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago, and it has much to explore. Gorgeous scenery, those azure waters, and hillside villages. Lots of fish and rabbit on the food front, pastries like pastizzi, mahi mahi pie, and that is just the tip of it. The locals are very keen to tell me it is Winter, but it is 26 degrees C and I am toasty warm. After spending a day in London battling the rain, it is a lovely change.

You can follow my adventures on twitter and also those of my travelling companions, who are all bloggers but maybe are not so food obsessed. What?! I know. Check in on the #MaltaIsMore hashtag on twitter, instagram and facebook.

Tips are welcome, as always! Thanks.

I am visiting Malta for Blog Island, created and sponsored by Malta Tourism Authority in partnership with iambassador. All editorial is my own, as always. 


Taste Portugal: A Day on the Algarve Clam Digging & Cooking with Heinz Beck [Part 1: How to Catch a Razor Clam & Visiting an Oyster Farm]

I have a terrible life, I know. Last Tuesday, my last day in Portugal on a trip to explore the food and drink (as a guest of Taste Portugal), we finished with a terrific day clam digging and cooking with 3* German but Rome based chef, Heinz Beck. Heinz also has a restaurant in the Algarve at the Conrad, you see, and while he is not based there he visits regularly and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Despite growing up on the sea, clam digging was entirely new to me, and it was fascinating. Even if we didn’t get that many, as the sea was too choppy and the clams were all buried away. We dragged a few out of their hidey holes though, and I can tell you how to do it.

To catch a razor clam, and yes, catch it you do, find a keyhole shaped hole in the sand in an area where the clams live. In the Algarve we went by boat to a sand bed that is covered by the tide when it is high. The clam holes are not particularly large, less than a centimetre, but do look like a keyhole or figure of 8. Sprinkle quite a bit of salt on it, covering it, and if there is a razor clam in residence you will soon know, as the salt drives them to the surface with speed. You will notice a frothing where the salt is, add more on, and soon you will see the razor clam peep out. It will eventually jump and then you grab it, and put it in your basket. Job done. Well, for one clam anyway, you will need a lot more.

You can also use a little spear to catch the clams, poking them into the hole, with the intention of not actually spearing the clam as you want it alive, but getting it to latch on to it. Wire mesh or wicker baskets are used to collect the clams, so that you can wash your catch by dipping it in and out of the water when you are done. You will occasionally catch a worm (don’t grab that, and prepare for a fright, they are pretty speedy and lashy). For best results, use fine sea salt for holes in the sand and coarse sea salt for holes in the water (like in a shallow pool). For smaller clams, we used a triangular shaped spade and dug up portions of sand, plucking out the clams as we did, this was much more successful.

On the way back, we stopped at a small oyster farm, Aquaprime Oysters, and indulged. Large salt sweet oysters greeted us, plucked straight from their bed. We had some light Douro sparkling to accompany, that the oyster farmers make themselves. At this point I actually fell over in the boat, such was my enthusiasm, but thankfully no harm done. I landed in the boat, saved my camera, and apart from a few bruises, all was ok. I have long ago given up on worrying about what people think of my frequent accidents, I am ridiculously clumsy.[Read more]


A Postcard from Langkawi, Malaysia

Greetings from Langkawi, Malaysia! I am just about to go to the airport to head home, but I wanted to share some photos with you from 4 amazing days here before I go.

It was my first trip to Malaysia and I am wondering why it has taken me so long to get here. Such warm friendly people, fabulous interesting food and it is so beautiful. The first thing I saw when I landed was a water buffalo mooching idly in a rice paddy field. They had me at buffalo, but the monkeys I saw next? I was sold.

Langkawi, it turns out, is a bit of a hidden gem. An archipelago of 99 islands (104 at low tide), with just 2 inhabited, it sits at the northern tip of Malaysia opposite Thailand, which is just half an hour away by boat. You can clearly see Thailand from some parts of the Langkawi shore. 4 days isn’t a lot but I packed so much in. 2 cooking classes, a mangrove tour, a sunset boat trip, a trip to the night market and lots of meals. Lots more on all of that soon.

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Cruising with Atul Kochar and P&O Cruises (7 Nights, 4 Countries, 6 Ports & 4 Seas)

Cruises. What are your thoughts on those? I had a few. Namely that they weren’t for independent travellers and were very prescribed (they can be), that I would go crazy stuck on a boat with limited options and that they were generally for much older people. What if the food was rubbish? And I would be stuck with it for a week! Right? Right. I love the sea, boats, and I adore slow travel, but cruising seemed a little too package holiday for me.

I have had opportunities to go on and review cruises before, but I have not accepted, primarily because of this. My arm was twisted by the dual impact of friends who told me that I was being very narrow minded, and an opportunity to go on a cruise with London based Michelin starred Indian chef, Atul Kochar. Atul would be teaching a masterclass in his on board restaurant, East, and also leading a market tour in Kotor in Montonegro, a new country for me but one I have wanted to visit.


We started in Venice. I was pretty slammed with work so I just flew on the day, but it is possible to go in before and spend some more time there. I wanted to explore Venice (can you believe I have never been?), but the sky was weeping, and I almost was too, I was so tired. You know how it can be before you go away anywhere? There is so much work that needs to be done before you can leave. So I relaxed in my new room, a comfortable deluxe with a balcony. Well, I say relaxed, I will be honest with you, I watched Caddyshack. I love that film. I instantly forget whatever is bothering me.

Leaving Venice.

The captain announced that we would soon be on our way, so I went to the balcony, and watched Venice as we slowly passed by. So beautiful, more so than I had imagined. I watched the canals wiggle through, and bridges stretch over. The rain was gone, the sky was streaking pink and the seagulls were very keen for us to know that they were there. It was joyful.


Dinner at The Glass House, sunset, a dock and the outdoor deck.

From there, to the The Glass House, a wine bar and restaurant. The list (designed by Olly Smith) was impressive. There are 32 wines with many available by the glass, served from enomatics. I immediately spotted some wines that I really enjoy: Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment from Santorini (which I had discovered at Grace Santorini last year, and obsessed on since). There was also the Velvet Devil Merlot from Charles Smith in Washington State (I had had that at on of my favourite meals this year, at the Lockart). I started with a Niagaran favourite, a Peller Ice Wine Cuvée, available by the glass for just £3.85 (which is a bargain).


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A Weekend in Rome & Where to Eat & Drink There (In Partnership with O2 Travel)


Despite four visits, Rome continues to surprise and remains one of my favourite cities to return to. It is utterly charming, from the free running nasones (water fountains, they translate as noses!) to the many fountains.  I always see new things, stay in new places, and discover great places to eat & drink. Well, that is why we go isn’t it? For carbonara, gelato, porchetta, Roman pizza, and that is just the start. I have my favourites, of course, that I return to all the time, but on this occasion, as I was there with O2 Travel to road test their internet and app, I used these to explore further.[Read more]


Cheese Making at Azienda Zootecnica Facenna in Puglia

Blessed are the cheese makers :)

Blessed are the Facenna cheese makers :)

Tucked away behind a barrage of windy roads lies a small holding. On it, an old two storey house, battered with years and the breeze that besieges its hilltop position. Up some external stairs, there is a little one room apartment. A bed in the corner, windows looking around, a small kitchen and a table. There is no electricity. Below, an old living room with a large fireplace above which cow bells hang on collars of all sizes for the newest calves to the largest bull.

Outside the house, overlooking, is a field full of cows. These are Podolica cows, native to Southern Italy. Large working beasts. Beautiful. In front, and to the right of the house, a long shed. In here there are pigs and piglets. Lots of them. Then calves to the left of them and right beside the house, still milk fed by their mothers. Overlooking, literally, balancing on a stony hedge because they are not satisfied with their massive field, some goats. Peeking in. A cat supervises from the top of the stairs and a puppy is running around beside himself. Because puppies always are, aren’t they?

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Where (and What) to Eat in Northern & Central Puglia

When I visited Puglia, I was surprised to discover that locals consider it under the radar. Ok, I am food obsessed, but I have known about Puglia’s food reputation for years, and have long wanted to visit. I thought that everyone did! (And I think that food bods do). Who could resist the lure of the home of burrata and orecchiette, and all of that lovely fish?

When I arrived in Bari, I was surprised to see very few tourists. There were lots of locals embracing their city, tiny toddlers whizzing around, stumbling on foot, and older siblings speeding by on bicycles (ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling!). Nonnis and Nonnas sitting outside their houses chattering, perched on stools. Young couples ambling by, deep in romance. A wedding. A random guy shaving his legs in the middle of the street. Bari has character, and lots of them living there too. I was charmed.

Where we have corner shops, Bari (and Puglia generally) has salumerias. Small shops rich with meaty bounty, bulbous waxy cheeses dangle from the ceiling (cacciovallo), towers of foccacia blink (a specialty of Bari too) and there is fresh hand made orecchiette and cavatelli to take home. They will make you a sandwich with whatever you fancy too.

I used Bari as a base and travelled to Barletta, Tranni, Apricena & Polignano a Mare. A cosy four day trip and so easy from London with direct flights. Bari is a small city, with a population of approximately 320,000, a perfect antidote to London when in need of a break. I also visited a farm and a dairy, but more on that in my next post.

This is not a definitive list, and I intend to go back, so if you have any tips for me, please leave them in the comments below. Thank you!


When in Puglia, generally, you must have orecchiette, but particularly so in Bari. Try it first with pomodoro (tomato sauce) and caccioricotta (also called ricotta dura, a harder saltier ricotta). Foccacia is also king, and the best in Bari is said to be in the old city at Panificio Fiore (Strada Palazzo di Citta’ 38, Bari) – sadly I didn’t make this, but I had an excellent one from a downtown salumeria (the gorgeous Salumeria Nino).

Osteria delle Travi

A friendly family run restaurant in the old city, you can get excellent renditions of the local fare here – orecchiette with pomodori, fritture di pesce (with excellent local Adriatic fish) and braciole (a traditional horsemeat dish).

Osteria delle Travi, Largo Chyurlia 12, 70122 Bari

Ristorante La Cecchina

Located in the town square in the old town, and the perfect location to witness the local hustle bustle, try the wholewheat orecchiette with tomato and burrata and the excellent seafood pasta, and fritture de pesce as above.

Ristorante La Cecchina, Piazza Mercantile, 31, 70121 Bari

Sgagliozze, street food

The best sgagliozze in Bari is said to be cooked by Maria delle Sgagliozze (Maria of the Sgagliozze) outside of her house downtown. I didn’t find her on my trip, but there are plenty of others to sample. I found one as I turned a street corner and peered inside a shop, over a large pot of boiling extra virgin olive oil. Within were long bars of polenta, which had been air dried for up to 3 days, so that they are rendered perfectly crisp when fried, and then served with lots of sea salt. The Bari version of chips (dare I say better?), lots of people make it, just look out for ladies behind big pots on street corners. You can’t miss it. (I paid €1 for 6 too).

The Fish Market

Located on the lungomare, just opposite Piazza Eroi del Mare, this is where the fishermen pull up in their small fishing boats and sell their wares. A great place to try the Puglian tradition of eating raw fish, sample sea urchin (I promise that it is rich, buttery & divine), mussels, or octopus which the fishermen tenderise by the water by beating it with a large wooden paddle (it is dead at the time, naturally).

Salumeria Nino


I don’t know if Salumeria Nino is the best Salumeria in Bari, I hazard there are many excellent ones, but I was charmed by it and went to stock up on treats to bring home. I highly recommend a visit.

Salumeria Nino, Via Vallisa 30, Bari

BARLETTA [Read more]


Next Stop: Puglia & #WeAreInPuglia

Next stop: Puglia. This, I am very excited about. Puglia has a rich culinary heritage and diverse wine culture (I have been told there are 24 types of wine that I need to try – ok then!). It is the heel and spur, if Italy was a boot, and has lots of fresh seafood from its long Adriatic coastline. Orecchiete, burrata, friselli, taralli, pizzette, puccia and lots of other joys pepper too.

I am here for four nights to explore, indulge in the food scene and to broadcast all about it from Puglia to Dublin, live. Yes! If in Dublin, be sure to pop down to the roadshow at the Puglia Village on George’s Dock. Running until Tuesday 15th July there will be live music, wine tasting, cooking demos, food samples, and it is all free. They want to share the Puglia love.

I will be broadcasting to the Puglia Village on George’s Dock at 1pm and 4pm on Friday (tomorrow) and 11.30am and 1pm on Saturday. You can only catch this at the Puglia Village so make sure you get on down there if you can. If you can’t, or are not in Dublin, don’t worry, I will be sharing lots here too. You can also follow it all by tracking #WeAreInPuglia on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

(Pics above are from my first few hours in Bari – nice, eh?!)

I am in Puglia for #WeAreInPuglia, a collaboration between iAmbassador and the Tourism Board of Puglia supporting the #WeAreInPuglia European road show, sponsored by the Tourism Board of Puglia. All editorial is mine, as always.


Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe

Serving up the ragu! Anna, on the left.

Serving up the ragu. Anna, on the left.

One thing  that I learned on my recent trip to Emilia Romagna is that every recipe and every dish is personal. Passion exudes from every pore, and never more than when the topic of food or the particulars of a recipe are under discussion. People in Emilia Romagna are very animated over lunch, and they are mainly discussing the food that they are eating, and just that. I love that.

People get particularly excited about homemade tagliatelle with ragu. It originates there, and Emilia has one way, Romagna another. Within those regions different families have their own approach. Bologna has a meaty dense ragu of its own (hence, Bolognese sauce). The personal differences are glorious. I had so many different ragus in trattorias all over the region. Some dense with meat and assertive, one cooked in lard and layered with white pepper (my favourite, I think), some rich and fruity with tomato with the meat appearing to surf it.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

I cooked ragu with two people in Emilia Romagna. The first was Anna, a wonderful lady based in Savignano sul Rubicone in Emilia Romagna. Romagna, to be precise, so the ragu here is different to Bologna, which is in Emilia. Anna learned from her mother, a recipe that has been passed down the generations. Anna’s ragu is a rich sauce made from a mixture of minced beef, pork and (Italian) sausage, with soffrito, red wine and passata. The second was Walter, from Lazio, but we cooked in Bologna style. I will share that another time.

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna's kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna’s kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Today I am going to share Anna’s ragu recipe with you. She is extraordinarily generous, and gave me her time, as well as her family recipe. She is a joy to watch and to learn from, cooking with love and care, and her ragu is incredibly frugal (as I think a lot of Italian food is).

It will feed 10 people, which is quite striking when you see how little meat is involved. You probably aren’t feeding 10 people, but you know, it tastes great the next day. I love all the little extra steps in Anna’s recipe. Set aside an afternoon and make it, and think of that lovely lady Anna, who took the time to share it with me, so that I could share it with you.

Do make the effort with the homemade pasta, if you can. It makes a huge difference. It is so rewarding, too. There is a link to and Emilia Romagna homemade pasta recipe and instructions in the method below.

Thank you, Anna!

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Where to Eat and Drink in Bologna

Emilia Romagna is an Italian province, nestled between Milan, Florence, Venice and Genoa. It is actually two historical provinces, Emilia & Romagna, both with their own food & wine identity, but with common threads.

Home to Parma ham, parmsesan cheese & balsamic vinegar, and those are just the most famous ones that you have heard of, it is also the home of pasta, specifically tagliatelle with ragu, lasagne, tortelloni and tortellini in brodo. There are several local breads, gnocco fritto (called torta fritta in Parma), a fried puffed bread that you stuff with salami, and tigelle, small patterned breads traditionally made in stacks of heated round terracotta tiles, now in pans over a fire.

The capital, Bologna is a great city to start from. Easy on the eye, brown, orange and yellow buildings are lined with porticoes – arched walkways – which protect from the rain in winter and the sun in summer. It is a gorgeous bohemian city, the perfect size for a weekend exploring, and has much to offer in terms of trattorias, gelaterias and salumerias. It is a great base from which to explore the rest of  Emilia Romagna. Trains are reasonable and frequent, if you have a car, the countryside has lots to offer too and you would miss much if you didn’t explore it.

Lambrusco and Sangiovese are the most prolific local wines. Lambrusco, a gorgeous sparkling wine, whose reputation has sadly suffered due to lots of cheap imitators in our supermarkets. My favourites were the dry sparkling reds and rosés, some rich and thick, and others light and transparent. Lambrusco is the wine of Emilia, which is perfect for clearing the palate after the rich foods usually cooked in butter there. Sangiovese is more commonly found in Romagna, where olive oil is the cooking fat of choice. Both use lard too.

My focus in Bologna was tagliatelle with ragu (there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna), primarily, then tortellini in brodo and lasagne, both at home and in restaurants. After that gelato, aperetivo (a traditional drink at 6pm, how could I refuse?), and the local breads. Every local you speak to has a preference and strong opinion on all of these dishes. The Bolognese ragu tends to be very meaty and served with a toothsome homemade tagliatelle. Some prefer the pasta thin, but not me, I was to discover.[Read more]


A Postcard from Rimini (and Where to Eat)

I am holed up on the floor of a hot train in between carriages. There isn’t much space but I have managed to sit, curled. I can’t quite feel my legs and I am not all that bothered. I have had a great couple of days on an impromptu trip to the Emilia Romagna seaside town of Rimini, and it is cushioning me on the way home.


I had heard a lot about Rimini, little of it good. That it was a heavily touristed town and quite tacky. It is a beach town and I hate beach holidays too, although I adore the sea. When on holiday, I like to read (in the shade), mooch and wander, and explore the local food and wine scene.

But when I arrived in Bologna, locals started to tell me about the food culture in Rimini, that there were some great restaurants serving local specialities. That the centre of Rimini is an old Roman town. I had no plans for the weekend so I thought, why not? 1.5 hours on the train from Bologna and a €20 return ticket, seemed not too terrifying a gamble.


The sea air, how I miss it. It is different here to my sea air at home, all warm and gentle. Where I grew up, on the Atlantic coast in southern Ireland, the air in winter is like a constant exfoliation. It can be harsh and it is certainly direct. Here it is soft and clear, reflecting the gentle lull of the Adriatic. [Read more]


Pellegrino Artusi & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi, Casa Artusi, The Art of Cooking Well in Forlimpopoli & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)

Pellegrino Artusi is widely referred to as the father of Italian cuisine. Penning the first pan Italian cookbook, (self) published only 20 years after the unification of Italy in 1891 and in the language of the new unified Italy (which was the dialect of Florence), when he was 71.

Artusi’s cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, featured over 475 recipes gathered from Italian home cooks on his travels as a business man. 15 editions were published before he died 20 years later, with many further recipes added (finishing with 750).

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well was predicted to be a commercial failure by Italian publishers at the time, and they refused to publish it, but it was a tremendous success. It has been in print since publication, and is in almost every Italian home. It has been translated into several languages also (it was translated to English in 1997). 200,000 copies were sold in his lifetime and many more in the 103 years since then.

(So, you know, the message being if you believe in something strongly enough, take a risk and make it happen. You never know, do you?)
[Read more]